Café Society

Film, Comedy
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Café Society

Woody Allen offers another clunky, underwhelming tale of romance in the Jazz Age

With the period romance 'Café Society', Woody Allen gives us a young Jewish man, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg, fairly endearing as a Woody stand-in), who's burnt by love and glamour when he escapes the family business in 1930s New York and heads to LA to seek work from his uncle, Phil (Steve Carell), a high-rolling talent agent. Once there, Bobby falls hard for his uncle's secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), although her secret affair with Phil inevitably complicates their relationship.

The film is built on twin nostalgias: a nostalgia for 1930s Hollywood and a nostalgia for the comforts and foundations of home. It's a languid and clumsy film, not very romantic (the scenes between Eisenberg and Stewart are desperately flat) and even less funny, although it manages a wistful thoughtfulness in some of its later scenes. While Bobby flounders in Hollywood, back home his male relatives play out versions of what it means to be a man: his father is a homebody; his brother is a gangster; and his brother-in-law prefers wordy wisdoms to physical violence. Soon, Bobby is back among them: his dreams are faded, his skin is a little tougher and he's running a nightclub for his criminal sibling when he meets a new woman, Veronica (Blake Lively).

The 1920s and 1930s hold a special fascination for Allen, who visited these years with previous films including 'Radio Days', 'Midnight in Paris' and 'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion'. It's the world the 80-year-old was born into; a mirror he enjoys holding up to his recurring interests: why do we allow our ambitions to make a mockery of us? Why does love make us behave in such strange ways? Why can't we be faithful to ourselves and others? Here, he works for the first time with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Bernardo Bertolucci's longtime collaborator), and the Italian lends the film an easy-on-the-eye, light-filled beauty, leaning heavily on creams, yellows, browns and whites – yet there are moments when the sumptuousness becomes syrupy and over-bearing.

The soundtrack offers the expected jazz, plus a number of Rodgers and Hart songs, while Allen himself, now sounding slower and a little mumbly, offers an intermittent, awkward narration. 'Café Society' is a morose almost-comedy that lacks energy and focus and flirts with themes and then abandons them. In the pantheon of Allen's films, it's a pretty, rambling, minor distraction.

By: Dave Calhoun

Posted:

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday September 2 2016
Duration: 96 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Woody Allen
Screenwriter: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg
Blake Lively
Kristen Stewart

Average User Rating

3 / 5

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Tastemaker

Pretty typical late-Allen (Blue Jasmine aside), nice to watch but breezes away from the memory minutes after watching.  Didn't really buy into Eisenberg's character progression and there's limited laughs strangely for a Woody picture, but it's extremely watchable, charming entertainment of a period easy to be nostalgic for.  Don't expect to remember it after you've ejected the DVD though.

tastemaker

I'm a huge Woody Allen fan and I was really excited to see this new movie, but I must say I was a little disappointed. Great performance, but the story was a bit boring. Almost to simple for him, love and a bit of mystery. The movie is taking place in LA and NYC and you kind of loose the city charm as his movies usually have. IT's definitely nice to see, but don't expect too much. Few laughs, good performance and music.

Tastemaker

Let's start by saying I am NOT a Woody Allen fan. In fact, I actively avoid his movies. However, something about the trailer grabbed me and I gave this a go. I didn't hate it, it was a pleasant, easygoing, quite funny and whimsical little movie. Not too long so bearable. Equally - it didn't rock my world as the story was fairly mundane. The characters were well drawn and the best thing about it was the rich visuals and detailed period nature of the piece. If you want to while a way a couple of hours you could do worse!

tastemaker

Café Society is a classy piece of work from Woody Allen, and great improvement on his recent movies. Some really neat performances from Jesse Eisenberg, and Steve Carell.  A chunk of nostalgia, pleasing soundtrack, glorious locations.

My only complaint is there are no witty one liners - where has the great comedian gone ? 
tastemaker

The experience of watching ‘Cafe Society‘ is akin to sitting in a really comfy chair (coincidentally I was sat in a really comfy armchair at Greenwich Picturehouse when I was watching it). It feels safe and nostalgic, possessing just enough reflexive thought to add some depth but not enough to stop it feeling easy & breezey. You’re in the hands of an old pro (this is the 47th he has made) and whilst this is no ‘Manhattan’ nor ‘Blue Jasmine‘ (few things are really..) it possess the self-assured charm of ‘Midnight in Paris’ along with the accessibility that ‘Irrational Man’ lacked. 


Few recent cinematic experiences have been this delightful. 'Cafe Society' offers very much and takes very little. It woes and charms, easily entertains and does not demand too much energy nor brainpower. Such sumptuous cinematography and rich performances make for a love story that is well worth a watch.